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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Odds are quite good you're doing some outdoor painting this summer. Perhaps it's even time for that big-ticket item, the house. In which case, the paint industry owes you a debt of thanks for buying so many cans of the wrong color in your quest for the right hue.

If you've been there, done that one too many times, you might be ready for a color consultant. Here's our doyen of décor, NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine.

KETZEL LEVINE reporting:

Good morning. I'm standing outside my house in Portland, Oregon, waiting for the arrival of John Forsgren - an architectural designer who is, admittedly, also a friend, and who I am counting on for an honest appraisal of my orange, brown, green, and periwinkle blue newly painted house.

Mr. JOHN FORSGREN (Architectural Designer): Can I look now?

LEVINE: Okay.

Mr. FORSGREN: Wow! Vivid. I'm shocked.

LEVINE: Seriously?

Mr. FORSGREN: Yeah. I would never have seen you coming up with this. I would have to ask you what you hoped to achieve?

LEVINE: Well, I wanted a foil for the garden. Something that would pop out.

Mr. FORSGREN: You succeeded.

LEVINE: But tell me what you think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORSGREN: Well, that's why I asked what you're trying to achieve, because it does achieve something. And if you had set out to create a quiet mouse on the street, you would have failed miserably - because honey, it ain't a mouse.

LEVINE: In fact, he called it a leopard, and was very politic about the whole thing. But knowing John as I do, there's no way he actually likes my house colors.

Which brings up a fundamental question if you're now choosing yours. Who are you painting for? John says people usually rush to say well, myself, of course. And I would have said that, too. But having really considered the question, I admit to a certain peer pressure to push the edge.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

LEVINE: One of the edgiest parts of town these days, not too far from the rail line, is Inner Southeast Portland, where you can find two thriving family-owned paint manufacturers - rare in an industry dominated by mega-size national brands. We've also got an embarrassment of boutique paint lines with their own hand-crafted colors. Among them, YOLO Color House.

LEVINE: Who's Yo?

Ms. VIRGINIA YOUNG (Artist and Co-owner of YOLO Color House, Oregon): I'm Yo.

LEVINE: Who's Lo?

Ms. JANIE LOWE (Artist and Co-owner of YOLO Color House, Oregon): I'm Lo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. YOUNG: We're color nerds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOWE: Yes, that's about what we…

Ms. YOUNG: Color's our life.

Ms. LOWE: Yeah. I mean, that's what we talk about, it's how we live in the world.

LEVINE: Decorative artists Janie Lowe and Virginia Young launched their natural color palette just last year, partnering with locally-owned Rodda Paints. Their environmentally friendly YOLO brand is just for indoor use right now, but Lowe and Young will be launching an exterior line using the earth-toned palette they now custom mix for their clients.

Ms. LOWE: And we take our colorants with us and tweak right there on site, and put it up on the house until we get it.

LEVINE: So you're standing there with the client, and the client is saying, mmm, I want it a little more this. Mmm, I want it a little more that. That could be crazy-making.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOWE: It is! Especially when the neighbors get involved and everybody comes out of their house down the street and has opinions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEVINE: What does it cost to hire you guys to do this?

Ms. LOWE: Probably upwards of $500.

Ms. YOUNG: To a thousand. And people are not flinching at that price, because it's such an investment to paint the exterior that they really want to get the colors right.

LEVINE: Some free advice from YOLO - your roof is a color. Use it as a cue. And paint large swatches of your sample color, more than a few broad strokes, so you can really see what you're getting into.

Ms. GRETCHEN SCHAUFFLER: Look how cute that little red house is. As a matter of fact, I'm going to pull up…

LEVINE: About Portland's boutique paint lines? If YOLO and its creators are Birkenstock, Divine Color and its creator are Blahnik.

Ms. SCHAUFFLER: Until I came along, paint was just paint. It was a chemical in a can. When I came along, I said this is forty yards of liquid fabric.

LEVINE: Gretchen Schauffler is a spitfire - born in Puerto Rico, schooled in Portland, ready to take on the world. I help people not be afraid of color, she says as she takes us on a drive-by tour of both nicely and poorly painted homes.

Ms. SCHAUFFLER: Okay. So let's look at this baby for a minute, because there's certainly something here to talk about. Because there are no bad colors, just bad color relationships. And this is definitely in the wrong context.

LEVINE: Ms. Schauffler pulls off to an off-white contemporary house, which she pronounces a bad tooth color.

Ms. SCHAUFFLER: If you've got the wrong white, baby, you've got the wrong white. And trust me, it will not feel right.

LEVINE: The house sits on a flagstone courtyard that shimmers with silvers and slate blues. Had she consulted on this project, Ms. Schauffler would have taken her color cues from that courtyard, then steered these homeowners towards a brighter white with a Pepsodent smile.

Despite all their differences in approach, the color consultants I spoke with agree on one thing: color is emotion, something most people prefer to conceal.

Architectural designer John Forsgren doesn't push anyone - certainly no further than he's willing to go himself.

Mr. FORSGREN: Oranges, reds, passionate colors. Being a Scandinavian, I take those colors in small doses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEVINE: Though he has been known to hang in the garden of an orange, brown, green, and periwinkle blue house.

Ketzel Levine, NPR News.

YDSTIE: You can visit Ketzel's house, too, and analyze several other painted houses at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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